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The Bush administration's environmental record: Energy industry

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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November 22, 2002

       The Environmental Protection Agency finalizes a rule that makes four important changes to the New Source Review (NSR) section of the Clean Air Act. Critics say the changes will help polluting industries maintain the status quo.
Plantwide Applicability Limits (PALs) - This change will allow a facility to set a Plantwide Applicability Limit (PAL) based on its average emissions over the previous ten years. A facility will be exempted from the New Source Review process when it upgrades or expands its operations if those changes do not cause the plant's emissions to exceed its PAL. Critics complain that the change does not require plants to reduce their overall emissions when a facility expands or modifies operations.

Pollution Control and Prevention Projects - Facilities will be permitted to undertake certain environmentally beneficial activities without having to apply for NSR permits.

Clean Unit Provision - Plants that voluntarily install “best available pollution controls” will be afforded “clean unit” status and exempted from NSR provisions for a period of 15 years. The change is retroactive to 1990.

Emissions Calculation Test Methodology - Facilities will be permitted to use a more lenient method when determining if a plant upgrade has increased its emissions. With the exception of power plants, facilities will be permitted to select any 24-month period during the previous decade to serve as its baseline for determining pre-modification emission levels.
The EPA also announces that it intends to revise the “Routine Maintenance, Repair and Replacement” exemption so that any modifications whose costs do not exceed a certain level would be exempt from the NSR provisions requiring plants to install pollution controls and conduct impact assessments on the ambient air quality when upgrading or replacing equipment. [Environmental Protection Agency, 11/22/2002; EarthVision Environmental News, 11/25/2002; Clean the Air, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; ENSR International, 12/24/2004]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

December 19, 2002

       The Bush administration's Office of Management and Budget sends a report to Congress announcing that it will conduct a review of more than 300 regulations—including ones pertaining to the environment and public health—which it has slated for overhaul, reform, or elimination. The review will draw on more than 1700 recommendations from private industry and think tanks. Many of the recommendations would weaken food safety standards, energy conservation standards, and natural resources. Sixty-five of the regulations targeted for overhaul are under the jurisdiction of the EPA. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/19/2002; Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 12/20/2002 Sources: Rewriting the rules, Senate Office of Governmental Affairs, 10/24/2002]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget
          

(2003-July 2003)

       EPA staffers are instructed by higher-ups not to analyze any mercury or carbon dioxide reduction proposals that conflict with the President's “Clear Skies” bill or, if they do, to keep the results under wraps. For example, an alternative proposal sponsored by Senators Thomas R. Carper and Lincoln Chaffee is analyzed by the EPA but its conclusions—showing that the Carper-Chaffee plan has some advantages over Clear Skies—are not released. According to one EPA staffer later interviewed by the New York Times, Jeffrey Holmstead, the assistant administrator for air programs, wondered out loud during a May 2 meeting, “How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?” And in June, EPA administrator Christie Whitman sends a letter to Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, informing them that the EPA will not do economic analysis on their alternative plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as they requested. Senator McCain later tells the New York Times that he did “not feel it was normal procedure to refuse to analyze a bill that is under the agency's jurisdiction.” [New York Times, 7/14/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Lincoln Chaffee, Joseph Lieberman, Thomas R. Carper, Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Jeffrey Holmstead, John McCain
          

January 10, 2003

       Assistant Secretary of the Interior Craig Manson writes to the State of Montana and withdraws a December 2002 environmental impact assessment conducted by National Park Service scientists which had concluded that the emissions from a proposed 780-megawatt coal-fired Roundup Power Plant would negatively affect visibility and air quality at Yellowstone National Park, located 112 miles away from the plant's proposed site. Manson, a former Sacramento judge, claims that “weather events” had skewed the results of the study. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 10/31/2003; PEER, 3/16/2003; National Parks Conservation Association, 3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 4/2004, pg 28; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Craig Manson  Additional Info 
          

January 28, 2003

       The President delivers his State of the Union address and describes his rollbacks as environmental protections. He talks about his “Healthy Forest Initiative” (see May 21, 2003) and the issues of energy independence and air pollution, stressing his administration's disfavor with “command-and-control regulations.” The President does not mention the issue of clean water. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/28/2003 Sources: 2003 State of the Union Address]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush  Additional Info 
          

February 4, 2003

       The President presents his fiscal 2004 budget proposal. In it are billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to energy companies and several anti-environment provisions including cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, natural resources spending, renewable energy programs, and clean water programs including a $492 million, or 37 percent, cut from a revolving fund used by states to upgrade sewage and septic systems and storm-water run-off projects. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/5/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d. Sources: Environmental Spending Under the Bush FY 2003 Budget [Table]]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency
          

June 5, 2003

       A White House aide tells Congress that the administration overestimated the expected reduction in mercury emissions that would result from the implementation of its “Clear Skies” plan. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The EPA is under court orders to finalize a mercury reduction plan, which would update the Clean Air Act, by December 15, 2003. The current version of the Clean Air Act has no provisions covering mercury, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants. [New York Times, 7/14/2003] The administration's “Clear Skies” plan had predicted that if sulfur and nitrogen compound emissions were reduced by 70 percent in 2010 as the plan proposes, there would be a concomitant reduction in mercury pollution from coal power plants to about 26 tons a year nationally. But a revised estimate put the expected reduction between 2 and 14 tons. Since Congress' current draft of the Clean Air Act had set a reduction target of 22 tons by 2010 based on the plan's previous figures, energy industry lobbyists and some pro-industry senators are now arguing that the mercury reduction goal should likewise be set to a smaller amount. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration
          

June 12, 2003

       President Bush sends Congress the Biennial Report on the Administration of the Coastal Zone Management Act, [White House, 6/12/2003] which proposes new rules that would undermine coastal states' control over their coastlines by reducing public and state government participation in decisions affecting the coast and its resources. The changes would pave the way for new offshore oil and gas development. [Environmental Defense Center, 8/21/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, George W. Bush
          

June 23, 2003

       The Bush administration releases its “Draft Report on the Environment,” which concludes that by many measures US air is cleaner, drinking water purer and public lands better protected than they had been thirty years ago. The document, commissioned in 2001 by the agency's administrator, Christie Whitman, is comprised of five sections: “Cleaner Air,” “Purer Water,” “Better Protected Land,” “Human Health,” and “Ecological conditions.” But it is later learned that many of its conclusions rest on questionable data. Moreover, the report leaves out essential information on global climate change and pollution sources. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d. Sources: 2003 Draft Report on the Environment] In its “Purer Water” section, the report claims that “94 percent of the [US] population served by community water systems [was] served by systems that met all health-based standards.” But on August 6, The Washington Post will reveal that on June 18 (see June 18, 2003), an internal inquiry had been launched over concerns that the source data was flawed. “Internal agency documents ... show that EPA audits for at least five years have suggested that the percentage of the population with safe drinking water is much lower—79 percent to 84 percent in 2002—putting an additional 30 million Americans at potential risk,” the newspaper will report. [The Washington Post, 8/6/2003] Another troubling feature of the report is that a section on global climate change was removed from the report prior to publication because EPA officials were unhappy with changes that had been demanded by the White House. Some time during the spring, administration officials had asked the agency to delete references to a 2001 report (see June 2001) concluding that human activities contribute to global warming and information from a 1999 study indicating that global temperatures had risen significantly over the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. “In its place, administration officials added a reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning that conclusion,” the New York Times reports. Irritated with the White House's influence on the report, EPA staffers wrote in an April 29 confidential memo that it “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.” Unable to reach a compromise with the White House, the EPA elected to drop the entire section. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003] In place of a thorough discussion of the issue, the report only says: “The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future. Because of these complexities and the potentially profound consequences of climate change and variability, climate change has become a capstone scientific and societal issue for this generation and the next, and perhaps even beyond.” [Boston Globe, 6/20/2003; The Guardian, 6/20/2003] The EPA's report also left out information on the potentially adverse effects that pesticides and industrial chemicals have on humans and wildlife. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

November 14, 2003

       After 71 days of negotiations, Congressional Republicans announce that they have agreed on an energy bill that would provide some $20 billion in tax breaks for power companies. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003] President Bush voices his support for the bill—drafted mostly by Republicans—which he says will make the US “safer and stronger” by helping to “keep the lights on, the furnaces lit, and the factories running.” He also states, “By making America less reliant on foreign sources of energy, we also will make our nation more secure.” [White House, 11/14/2003; New York Times, 11/15/2003] To facilitate the bill's passage through Congress, “negotiators sprinkled in dozens of sweeteners sought by states and congressional districts,” including nearly $1 billion in shoreline restoration projects, tax credits for a company that manufactures fuel from compressed turkey carcasses, and a provision doubling the use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive. The Republican lawmakers also dropped a section that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, as Democrats had made clear that they would vote against any bill containing such a provision. But the Republicans decided against including a Democrat-favored plan to require large utility companies to steadily increase their use of energy from clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar power. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003] The bill includes:
A provision introduced by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay that would provide energy companies and universities with $2 billion in subsidies over the next 10 years for research and development of ultra deep-water oil exploration techniques and “unconventional” natural gas extraction. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003]

A controversial provision granting Gulf Coast refiners of the fuel additive MTBE $2 billion in subsidies to assist them in the phasing out of MTBE production. The phase-out, originally proposed to take 4 years, is extended to 10 by the bill. MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, which helps decrease smog, is known to contaminate groundwater. The new energy bill would also prevent communities from bringing product liability lawsuits against the manufacturers of MTBE. Tom Delay was a strong supporter of this provision, as were other legislators from Louisiana and Texas, where MTBE is produced. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003; New York Times, 11/15/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003]

A section dealing with the electric grid that would require large power companies to meet new mandatory reliability standards. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; New York Times, 11/16/2003]

Royalty relief to the owners of marginal oil and gas wells. The program would apply to approximately 80 percent of all wells on federal lands. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]

A provision that would allow taxpayer money to fund the clean-up of leaking underground gasoline storage tanks (LUST). [Sources: Letter from head of evironmental groups to Congress about the energy bill HR 6]

A provision authorizing Alaska's “Denali Commission” to use over $1 billion on hydroelectric and other energy projects on Alaska Federal Lands. [Sources: Letter from head of evironmental groups to Congress about the energy bill HR 6]

A provision permitting urban areas like Dallas-Ft. Worth, Washington, DC and southwestern Michigan to further delay efforts to reduce air pollution, “an action that will place a significant burden on states and municipalities down-wind of these urban centers.” [Sources: Letter from head of evironmental groups to Congress about the energy bill HR 6]

$100 million/year in production tax credits for the construction of up to four light-water nuclear reactors. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003; The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]]

Loan guarantees for building a $20 billion trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline. But officials of ConocoPhillips, a major backer of the project, complain that the bill's incentives are insufficient to get the project moving. [Associated Press, 11/16/2003; The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]]

Tax incentives to encourage wind power generators, energy-efficient homes and hybrid passenger cars running on gasoline and batteries. Additionally, it sets aside funds for equipping government buildings with photovoltaic cells and developing energy-efficient traffic lights. The package also allocates $6.2 million to encourage bicycle use. But according to a preliminary estimate by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, these progressive reforms would eliminate only about three months worth of energy use between now and 2020. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]]

A repeal of the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act, which limits utility industry mergers. This provision was a top priority for the electric power industry and the White House. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]]
Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the conference committee charged with resolving differences between the House and Senate bills, acknowledge to the New York Times that the bill will likely be criticized. [New York Times, 11/15/2003]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, Pete V. Domenici, Tom DeLay  Additional Info 
          

November 21, 2003

       The Bureau of Land Management grants Questar Exploration and Development Corporation a special exemption to drill four gas wells on Wyoming's Pinedale Mesa throughout the winter season for the second year in a row. The company will drill the wells from a single pad using directional drilling technology instead of from multiple pads which would require the use of more space and the construction of more roads. Normally companies are barred from drilling between November 15 and April 30 in order to protect the region's wildlife population. [Associated Press, 11/24/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] For at least 6,000 years, the area has served as a crucial winter range and migration corridor between the Wind River and Wyoming mountain ranges for more than 100,000 mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, elk, and bighorn sheep. Biologists fear that winter drilling in the region could disrupt this annual migration, causing significant losses to the wildlife population. For example, the corridor is critical to the survival of a herd of pronghorn antelope because it receives a lesser amount of snow than the surrounding areas. Pronghorn antelope cannot survive in the deep snow because it makes it impossible for them to evade their predators. [National Geographic, 3/28/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Questar Exploration and Development, Bureau of Land Management
          

November 26, 2003

       EPA officials complete a draft proposal outlining plans to revise the conclusion of a court-ordered December 2000 EPA study which had determined that mercury emissions “pose significant hazards to public health and must be reduced.” As a result of the 2000 study, the agency had been ordered to propose a “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) standard for all coal-burning power plants by December 15, 2003. [EPA, 12/14/2000; The Washington Post, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/2/2003 Sources: Mercury White Paper] But instead of complying with this mandate, the EPA's current draft proposal on the regulation of mercury emissions attempts to modify the December 2000 conclusion claiming that it had been based on a misreading of the Clean Air Act. Citing a different provision in the Clean Air Act, the draft proposal recommends a flexible regulatory approach that is more acceptable to industry. It suggests a market-based mandatory “cap and trade” program permitting utility companies to purchase emissions “credits” from cleaner-operating utilities to meet an industry-wide standard. It is estimated that their plan would reduce mercury emissions to 34 tons a year by 2010, or about 30 percent below current levels. But this is a much higher cap than the 26-ton limit initially specified in the White House's “Clear Skies” initiative (see June 5, 2003). The White House claims that by 2018 their “cap and trade” plan would result in a mercury emissions reduction of 70 percent, which is significantly less than the 90 percent reduction that would otherwise be achieved within 3 or 4 years, if the EPA were to keep to the original December 2000 ruling. [The Washington Post, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/2/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency
          

February 13, 2004

       The Environmental Protection Agency announces that it will allow North Dakota to adopt a new method for estimating air pollution. [Los Angeles Times, 2/14/2004; The Washington Post, 5/19/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The decision was made during a meeting between EPA administrator Michael Leavitt and North Dakota Governor John Hoeven the previous weekend. [The Washington Post, 5/19/2004] According to the agency's own specialists in air quality monitoring, the new method will grossly underestimate pollution levels, potentially allowing North Dakota to relieve itself of the stigma of being the only state whose federal preserves—Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge—are in violation of the Clean Air Act. [The Washington Post, 5/19/2004; USA Today, 9/15/2002; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/13/2004] The lower pollution levels could in turn result in the lifting of local development restrictions, allowing power companies to proceed with plans to build new coal-fired power plants in the area. “That sets the stage for new investments in our energy industry and real progress in our rural communities,” Hoeven explains. [Los Angeles Times, 2/14/2004; The Washington Post, 5/19/2004; Platts, 2/19/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration, John Hoeven
          

February 16, 2004

       EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt signs a final rule permitting power plants to continue using the “once-through” method to cool their turbines. The practice—condemned by critics as the most environmentally-damaging method of cooling available—relies upon water continually drawn from lakes, rivers and reservoirs for the power plants' cooling systems. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004; Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004; Associated Press, 1/9/2004; Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004; Democratic Policy Committee, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] Every year, some 200 million pounds of aquatic organisms are killed when they are trapped in the intake screens or forced through the water intake structures of these power plants. The new rule requires large power plants to reduce the number of fish and shellfish drawn into the cooling systems by 80 to 95 percent. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004] However, the rule also provides large power plants with several “compliance alternatives,” such as using existing technologies, implementing additional fish protection technologies, restocking fish populations and creating wildlife habitat. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004; Democratic Policy Committee, n.d.] Leavitt's decision to sanction the continued use of the “once-through” method goes against the advice of his own staff which recommended requiring power plants to upgrade to closed-cycle cooling systems which use 95 percent less water and which pose far less of a risk to aquatic ecosystems. But the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which works under the White House's Office of Management and Budget, reportedly opposed requiring plants to switch to the newer more expensive closed-cycle system. [Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004; Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004] The new rule applies to 550 power plants that withdraw 222 billion gallons of water daily from American waterways. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency  Additional Info 
          

July 12, 2004

       Agriculture Secretary Ann Venemana announces the proposal of a new federal rule that would overturn the Roadless Rule introduced by Clinton in January 2001. The Roadless Rule banned the construction of roads in 58.5 million acres, or nearly one-third, of the nation's forests. The administration claims that the motivation behind the new rule is to give states a say in the management of their lands. Under the new rule, state governors would presumably help decide whether areas in their own states should be opened to commercial activity like logging or oil and gas drilling. But for the first 18 months the rule is in effect, the US Forest Service would have the final authority on all decisions. After that, local Forest Service plans, which typically would allow road building and logging on the areas currently designated as roadless, would be reinstated. Governors opposed to any of these plans would have to petition the Agriculture Department in a complicated, two-step process. [San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13/2004 (A); San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13/2004 (B); Salt Lake Tribune, 7/14/2004; The Washington Post, 7/13/2004; Juneau Empire State News, 7/13/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Department of Agriculture, Ann Venemana  Additional Info 
          


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